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American Classics - Rochberg: Piano Music, Vol. 3 / Pinkas

Rochberg / Pinkas
Release Date: 06/29/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559633   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George Rochberg
Performer:  Sally Pinkas
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ROCHBERG Partita-Variations. Nach Bach. Sonata-Fantasia Sally Pinkas (pn) NAXOS 8.559633 (67:28)

This is the third disc in a series devoted to George Rochberg’s piano music. The first (Naxos 8.559631) features Pinkas and her husband, Evan Hirsch, playing the composer’s monumental cycle Circles of Fire , and the second (Naxos 8.559632) features Hirsch playing 12 Bagatelles, Read more style="font-style:italic">Three Elegiac Pieces , and Sonata Seria . I don’t know if Hirsch’s disc has been reviewed here yet, but the first disc was reviewed in Fanfare 33:6 by Peter Burwasser. Peter was not quite convinced by the music, writing, “My basic concern about the piece is that it is too long and ambitious.” He had no concerns about the performances, though.

All three of these Naxos discs are reissues of material that previously appeared on the Gasparo label in the late 1990s. The present disc was Gasparo GSCD-340/2. The works are performed in the order that they are given in the headnote—that is to say, in reverse chronological order. That makes a sort of sense, because the Partita-Variations (1976) is most accessible, Nach Bach (1966) is next most accessible, and the Sonata-Fantasia (1956) the least accessible. Listeners can ease themselves into Rochberg’s oeuvre with this disc.

The last part of Rochberg’s career found him freely combining styles, from the atonality he deeply explored in the 1950s, to the neoromanticism, neoclassicism, and use of quotation and near-quotation that came later. (Rochberg often is said to have changed his style as a composer following the untimely death of his son in 1961, but Rochberg didn’t shed his skin as much as he tried on many new layers, and often simultaneously.) The variation format is an excellent vehicle in which to exercise one’s polystylistic passions, and Rochberg is in rare form in the 35-minute Partita-Variations as he takes his material through many genres, including a gorgeous nocturne, in which ghosts of Chopin and Schumann both play a part.

Nach Bach , composed for Igor Kipnis, is, as its name suggests, based on Bach—specifically, on the Keyboard Partita No. 6. ( Nach Bach also may be performed on the harpsichord, and I think I would enjoy hearing it that way at least once.) Interestingly, Nach Bach includes material that Rochberg later would incorporate into the Partita-Variations. Nach Bach is short (8:45) and increasingly quirky as it progresses. In fact, I feel that it is a little too short to reach its potential.

Dodecaphonic and structurally dense, the 24-minute Sonata-Fantasia is a difficult listen, but not more difficult than Boulez, for example, and probably readily approachable by listeners who have more or less mastered Schoenberg. Within a decade, Rochberg would be composing more engaging music, but there’s nothing developmentally immature about the Sonata-Fantasia, and it does carry the listener forward with the strength of its convictions. It is just the sort of work that benefits from repeated listening.

In reviewing Circles of Fire for another publication, I commented, “Naxos would do well to license Pinkas’s other Gasparo discs,” and so it has. I don’t know if Rochberg oversaw or reviewed these particular performances, but he and Pinkas did have a working relationship, and I can’t find anything to criticize about these performances.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Partita Variations by George Rochberg
Performer:  Sally Pinkas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; USA 
Nach Bach by George Rochberg
Performer:  Sally Pinkas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1966; USA 
Sonata-Fantasia by George Rochberg
Performer:  Sally Pinkas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; USA 

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